Thursday, February 14, 2008

Delia, for the love of God…

Last night I decided to rustle up some nice simple leek and potato soup because those were the ingredients to hand – a couple of leeks, an onion, some potatoes, some chicken stock and the remains of a tub of clotted cream.

Just in case there might have been a revolution in the recipe for leek and potato soup I had a look at Delia Online, the website of the sainted Delia Smith. I wasn’t expecting very much – I mean how complicated is it to chop a few leeks and a couple of potatoes?

Imagine my surprise when I find that she recommends using three discs of frozen mashed potato. Am I seeing things? No. The woman who had the public sweep the shelves clean of fresh cranberries a few years ago is recommending we buy frozen mashed potato. And not any old frozen mash either, but McCain’s frozen mash – she even spells it out. (Wonder how much that works out at per click?)

Honestly, how long does it take to peel a spud? Or to get someone else to do it for you?

I know that Delia’s new thing is that food has become too cheffy and programmes like Masterchef where budding cooks get their dishes trashed are off-putting to the inexperienced, but for goodness sake... there are times for cheating and a potato is not one of them.

Delia’s new book is full of this sort of stuff. It’s called How to Cheat at Cooking and it will go straight into the bestseller charts at No 1 on pre-orders alone. I don’t think Gordon Ramsay will be buying it, and neither will I.

Reasons for peeling my own potato:

I know where it came from and how far it travelled.
I know how it was raised and what its name is
I can listen to the radio and drink a glass of wine as I peel
A child can do it and it is an excellent introduction to food for them
I put the peelings on the compost heap and they nourish the ground

Any more reasons for peeling your own potato are welcome!


Jeanne said...

Hear hear! I'm all for shortcuts... but really... how ward is it to mash potatoes? Practically the only skill you need is opposing thumbs!

Soup looks good though - I adore leek & potato soup :)

June said...


I love your comments - they are always bang on and they make me laugh - thank you!

Ciel said...

Mmmm, leek & potato soup is one of my favorites also! Two (opposable) thumbs up. :)

I have no doubt at all that fresh potatoes simply taste better than frozen. Ditto for the the fresh cream, milk or butter mashed into them. Then there's the absolute control you have over seasoning when you make your own mash...

And, like kneading breads, the mashing can be quite therapeutic after a long day!

June said...


Hah! Therapy! Another reason to add to the list! Not to mention opposable thumb practice!

denzylle said...

More reasons:

Potatoes are cheaper than anything McCain!

And it's better to support your local potato merchant (or your own garden) than whichever megacorporation is behind McCain.

June said...


Good comment. McCain's are German, by the way, and Aunt Bessie's - which she names in the book - are from New Zealand.

jasmine said...

Hi June

I was shocked to read this.

Personally, I hate it when recipe writers specify a specific brand name (unless it's the *only* one that makes the recipe work...and then I wonder what's wrong with the recipe). There's some part of me that wonders how much they sold themselves for to be a marketing tool. Granted many of us use shortcuts (store-bought broths, ketchups and other things that can be made a home), but something as simple as mashed potatoes?

In looking this up, I noticed she touts this product for other recipes as well...I'm usually pretty good about picking up her books, but I won't be picking up this one.

Unless there's another McCain out there, I believe the parent company is Canadian, not German.


June said...

Hi Jasmine

You are quite right - McCain is indeed a Canadian company. Apologies to everyone I have misled. Delia has said on live tv that she isn't getting a penny for all this advertising, but I think some of us wonder...

Shauna Chapman said...

Just when I thought Nigella was the country's most laziest (and slobiest) cook I was irritated to find that Delia has pipped her to the post! I was in Sainsbury's recently and discovered little 'Delia's Cheat' advertising flags flapping in various places around the store, suspiciously in the pickled, canned and frozen sections. I've downgraded Delia to the 'sell-out-celebrity-chef' section of my brain, squeezing in with Antony Worrel Thompson.

June said...

I confess I do feel betrayed. I was never a really big fan of Delia but I knew she was trusted and that integrity was a big part of her brand. What have we all been doing for the past ten years, trying to convince people to buy local and eat healthy? Delia says she's 'just a cook' and likes to buy peas from Kenya in January. It just ain't good enough! I am interested to read the comments on Amazon on the book - unstintingly negative.

lindy said...

I was amazed to see this new Delia stuff all over the place during my recent visit. It seemed so out of place- as I admired the far greater selection of organic, free range products in your supermarkets, and the beautiful farm shops which seemed to pop up everywhere. I was so envious- but this is crazy!

There is a program on the tv food network here in the States called "Semi-Homemade", in which an ornamental young woman makes elaborate, allegedly easy non-food out of instant ingredients, which she decorates with various artifical knicknacks.This program actually stopped me watching the Food Network altogether; it is so exploitative and ghastly.

I am convinced that the popularity of these supposed "shortcuts"-( which often in the case of Semi-homemade's Sandra Lee are actually ridiculously involved and time-consuming)-is a result of cynical manipulation of an insecure audience.

Sellers of highly processed foods have an economic interest in convincing their consumers that the use of fresh, locally grown foods is somehow snobbish and pretentious, and that real people who are practical and hard working prefer their chemical gunk.

You can see how well this is working when you bring a treat to work, for example, and someone discovers that you made your cake "from scratch" instead of from a mix.

There are always a few people who will make sure to tell you that they "don't have time for that." (i.e. that you must be independently wealthy, and/or somehow less depleted by your workday than they are.) Explaining that it is no more difficult is invariably unsuccessful.

It is really important to figure a way to somehow counter this "divide and conquer" strategy, to let people know that they deserve better. But I'm not really sure how it can be done, so that the yuppie image so often associated with real food can be shown false. At least we can be careful not to unintentionally contribute to this sort of image.

I do really think it is a political and economic battle,
with negative images being intentionally created by interests with deep pockets.I'm not very good at this sort of thinking, but there must be some better ways for those of us who think this important to project a more inclusive, approachable feeling.


Oh dear, I've gone on too long. I'm sorry- feel free to delete anything you like!

June said...


Very interesting comment, and very much the start of a discussion I feel. I have not yet quite figured out if Delia has sold out because her football team (she owns it) needs the money, or whether she really has not been paying attention for the last ten years. But I have figured out this: the nonsense about 'our busy modern lives' - the kind we would like our friends to think we live - meaning we don't have time to cook properly has got to be stopped. There are times when we are knackered - that's when we make an omelette or stick something in the oven to roast for an hour while we collapse with a glass of wine. And then there are times when we have the energy to chop for the universe, which is when we turn to Pierre Gagnaire. The great thing is that this book has met with almost universal whistles of derision. Hurrah!
Hope you had a great visit - catch you next time?

bron said...


I really enjoy reading your blog. It's pleasure and thoughtfulness are a real treat.

I think another reason to peel your own potatoes - and get kids to do it - is that we are in danger of raising a whole generation who no longer know how to cook.

Already about one third of UK households don't physically own a dining table. People no longer eat together, losing both the pleasure of good food and the sociability that comes from sitting around, sharing. It strikes me as terribly sad.

June said...

Hi Bron

I couldn't agree more. Have you tried to buy a tablecloth lately?!

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